SIDNEY — It is difficult to describe the life of the average Shelby Countian in 1819 in terms comprehensible to those living today.
The population had just reached 2,000 individuals (the decenial census in 1820 reflected a population of 2,106). Remember, however, that at the time Shelby County was formed, it included the land from the Miami-Shelby County line northward to the Ohio-Michigan state line (even further north than today, as the “Toledo War” [1835-36] had not yet established the current boundary between Ohio and Michigan). In fact, Shelby County was not reduced to its current 411 square miles until Auglaize County was created in 1848.
Most of the 2,000 early settlers lived on farms, toiling day after day to clear the land for agricultural purposes so that they might have enough food to feed their families. When the first settlers arrived, much of the land was densely forested, with oak and walnut, sycamore and cherry, ash and chestnut and a host of other varieties covering the land. Many of the trees were more than 500 years old with circumferences of more than 30 feet.
As settlers moved into the area, small villages formed, some initially with a blockhouse for protection. Nearly every village had a mill for grinding grain, a blacksmith for making and repairing implements and tools, and a cooper, who made barrels for storage and later, shipping products.
Shelby County has had a number of villages that were platted but never developed. Examples would include Ballou, Cynthian, North Port, Pulaski, Rhine, South Houston, and Starrettsville.
Others developed and then gradually all but disappeared over time. Examples would include Cedar Point (now Pasco), Dawson Station, Dingmansburg (later East Sidney), Montra, Mount Jefferson, New Bern, New Palestine, Newport, North Houston, Plattsville, Pontiac (now Kirkwood), Rumley, Swanders and Tawawa.
Jackson Center (1835) boasted a newspaper, the only national bank in the county except for Sidney, a flour mill, saw mills, a handle factory, stock yards, grain elevator and grain warehouses, with nearly all the growth coming after the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad passed through the village in 1892.
Port Jefferson (1836) was the high point of the feeder canal. The village had four busy blacksmiths, a cooper, five warehouses, a sawmill, flouring mill (Snow Flake Flour), grain elevator, a tannery and a stage coach line. The village prospered until the railroads sealed the fate of the canal.
Fort Loramie (1837) was originally named Berlin by the German immigrants who settled there. Berlin boasted brickmaking, tile manufacturing, a flour mill (Daisy OK Flour), sawmill, two large grain elevators with warehouses, and the all-important connection to the canal.
Lockington (1837) was originally named Locksport and had a promising start along the Miami & Erie Canal at the juncture of the feeder canal and the main waterway. There was a flouring mill, a sawmill, a woolen mill, a feed mill, a lumber mill, a paper mill and a large elevator.
Pemberton (1852) boasted two grain elevators, a stockyard, a flour mill, a carding mill, a lumber mill and a blacksmith, who engaged in the manufacture of a practical, self-feeder for swine. Pemberton grew in no small part because of its location on the Big-Four Railroad.
Russia (1853) grew in part because of its location along the Bellefontaine and Indiana Railroad. Russia had a sawmill, a large lumber warehouse, reportedly the largest blacksmith shop in Shelby County, a flouring mill and a tobacco warehouse.
Botkins (1858) was located adjacent to the Dayton and Michigan Railroad and had large grain elevators with warehouses, a flouring mill (Kitchen Queen Flour), the Ohio Spoke and Bending Company, a newspaper (the Botkins Herald), stockyards, a bank, three sawmills, a wagon manufacturer, a large kiln for making tile and a dairy.
Anna (1868) was also located on the Dayton and Michigan Railroad. The town boasted a large sawmill, grain elevators and stockyards. It was by the estimation of one early historian, the “prettiest town in the county.”
Maplewood (1892) was originally named Tileton, a name resulting from the local manufacture of drainage tile. There were two grain elevators and two grain warehouses. Maplewood grew because of its location on the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad.
Sidney (1820) grew in large part because of the opportunity to get manufactured goods to market. First the Miami & Erie Feeder Canal (1837), then the Bellefontaine & Indiana Railroad (1853), soon followed by the Dayton & Michigan Railroad (1859) and eventually the interstate highway system (1957) all contributed to Sidney’s growth.
Not unlike many larger communities, Sidney had several blacksmiths, a tannery that not only produced finished leather but manufactured horse collars, fly nets and strap work, several large grain elevators and grain warehouses, a flouring mill (Triumph Flour), several saw mills, a grist mill, a carding mill, a distillery and a manufacturer of agricultural plows.
Sidney also had two newspapers, two national banks, stockyards, three buggy manufacturers, a manufacturer of poles and shafts, a manufacturer of whips and another of school furniture. Sidney had three manufacturers of road scrapers. There were factories producing wheel barrows, brooms, cast iron and aluminum cookware, cast iron yard furniture, school bells and butter churns, a brewery, bakeries, four dairies and manufacturers of woodworking equipment, blacksmith forges and grain handling equipment.
As the Shelby County grew, so did the inventive genius of its citizens. While agriculture was, from the beginning, the backbone of the county, manufacturing continued to grow in importance. Today, Shelby County has more manufacturing jobs per capita than any other county in Ohio. Its county seat has more manufacturing jobs per capita than any other municipality in Ohio.
In 1909, the Sidney Daily News and Shelby County Democrat published an “Industrial Souvenir” for their readers. The editors perhaps best stated the obvious: “Shelby County people with their numerous, beautiful homes, clean, thriving, picturesque villages, fine churches and comfortable school houses, can proudly boast of being as intelligent, moral, religious, patriotic and progressive a population as can be found in any part of Ohio.”
The writer is the Shelby County Bicentennial co-chair and mayor of Sidney.